16 Nov 2018

The Elf's Prisoner - Chapter 4

Chapter 4

A Knight of the Realm of the Seven Dominons took up a quest for the Count of Varin.

Wilderness borders, County of Varin, Seven Dominions
Nyssa called for a stop as the sun reached its peak in the sky.  Leomund brought his horse up to join hers  "Is there a problem, ma'am?"

"Just time for lunch, Leo.  Get a fire going."  Nyssa regarded her young squire as he dismounted.  Her own joints creaked as she got off her own horse.  Of all the enemies she faced in her life, time was turning into her most relentless opponent.  Old injuries long healed ached as she stepped away from her horse.  She worked her shoulders, rotating them to loosen the muscles.

As she groomed her horse, she heard the popping of Leomund's fire.  "Good.  Get the small pot out.  We're having soup."

"Soup, ma'am?"  Leomund retrieved the pot from his saddle bags.  "Shouldn't we be using our rations?"

"Nonsense.  We have decent food now.  It'll go bad and we'll rush to use it instead of preparing it properly.  Life's too short for bad cooking."  Nyssa got out a package wrapped with waxed leather.  "And I paid the innkeeper for this morsel.  He said that all the spices we'll need are already in the meat."  The old knight tossed her waterskin to her squire.  "We'll find a creek to fill this later.  And we'll get proper rations in the elven city."

Leomund fumbled with the waterskin but was able to keep from dropping it.  "Are the elves going to welcome us, ma'am?"  He filled the cookpot with water then set it on the fire.

15 Nov 2018

The Elf's Prisoner - Commentary 2

Attacked in the Sylvan Forest, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 2.

The focus turns to Jyslyn for the chapter.  An outsider, the attack gave me a chance to get in her head.  This focus meant I didn't have to worry about the overall scene.  Jyslyn's focus is on just her survival.  She has a chance to escape.  Looks like Kazimier got into her head, though.  That one phrase will keep returning.  "It's not what we choose, but why."

For the fight, I used a place holder for the monsters involved.  The cave bear I knew I wanted it when it showed up.  The rest?  When writing in NaNoWriMo, I use placeholders that are easy to find when I just can't come up with the proper name, typically by using a dollar sign in front.  It makes for an easy search later, and the placeholders tend to be unique, like $monster1.  A search and replace in a word processor fixes things up later.  The gnolls weren't even gnolls, just a placeholder.  The reason I went with gnolls is because I was hoping to have a druid wearing a patch of sod on its head later.  That's right, I wanted a grassy gnoll.  Bad puns can drive decisions during NaNo.

The fight is probably the longest I've gone without dialogue.  I tend to be dialogue heavy, but no one wanted to say anything during the battle.  It gave me a chance to just do description.  That is tough to sustain.  The action helped - at least there was something happening - but to have no one talking was odd for me.  That said, it works.

Jyslyn had a few more surprises.  She understands the surface elves.  No one ever asked her.  She just let Kazi and his comrades believe she couldn't.  Jyslyn also returns Kazi's knife, and not because she's surrounded.  She turns Kazi's own phrase back on him.  Jyslyn is there for a reason.

I threw a number of names out at the audience.  I'm not expecting anyone to track all the named characters.  It's just that. for me, a living, breathing world has more people than just the lead characters.  Along with Kazimier and Jyslyn, Carrad gets a name, along with the dead elf, Derluen.  The rest of the elves and even the gnolls have names, they just haven't been determined by me.  But if I needed one, I would have found one.  Kazimier isn't out patrolling with spear carriers and redshirts.  He's there with people he knows.  There's just not enough focus available for each elf in the patrol.

Friday, unexpected travel companions, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 4
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, the importance of casting in adaptations.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, remaking the MST3K classic, Space Mutiny.

11 Nov 2018

NaNo 2018 - Week 2

Last week, I got off to a slow start.  With the first full week, counted Monday to Sunday, have things changed?


I ended last week using the first library write-in to not just catch up but get a little ahead, by 3/4 of a day, or 1272 words.  That's a small buffer, though, one that would be wiped if I ran into problems inside or outside of NaNo.  That meant making sure I wrote each night this past week.  The good news, though, is that I did.  It took me a few days to get back up to full speed, but I did do just that.  At the end of the week, I managed to get a full day's worth of writing extra, which makes for a far better buffer.

Numerically, things are good.  Narratively, things were looking thin.  I have characters.  I have vague ideas of where things are going.  But the first multipart episode wound up going in the weeds a few times.  I had to take time to figure out the why of the plot, which delayed the writing of the plot.  After a few searches, mostly on the American Civil War, I figured out what was going on in the background enough to let my characters play havoc with the plot.

The end of that plot meant figuring out where to go next.  I hadn't thought that far out.  If 2015 was bad for being prepared, 2018 is a disaster.  I didn't get a chance to think through potential arcs for the serial.  Ottawa's wonderful Municipal Liaisons, though, had other ideas.

Ottawa NaNo participants have been getting a leaflets to help track progress for years, from before I was an ML for a couple of years.  One of the great motivators discovered in the past is stickers.  Sounds silly, but being able to earn a sticker has gotten more words written in Ottawa than anything else.  The leaflet includes a bingo card, with bragging rights the main motivator to fill it.  This year, the theme is weddings, whether eloping or formal.  And that's where I found inspiration.

No, none of the characters are going to get married, at least not yet.  The bingo cards had two interesting boxes, "Vegas" and "Elvis".  From there, zombie Elvii threatening Las Vegas.  It's a leap, but it's there.  Why?  /Heaven's Rejects/ isn't supposed to be that serious, despite what I wound up doing for the second mission.  This is a story that doesn't always go for a deep meaning, not when the weird will do.  A bunch of zombies shuffling down the Las Vegas Strip in rhinestone coveralls?  And I can do anything I want to a zombie.  It's already dead!

Of course, that means I need to start thinking ahead to what my cast will do after that.  Zombie Elvii won't take up 30k words on their own.  They do let me put off the work needed for a day, though.  That's all I need.

If you want to follow my process, you can check my stats page over the month and see how I'm doing compared to where I should be.

9 Nov 2018

The Elf's Prisoner - Chapter 3

Chapter 3

Kazimier, Jyslyn, and the patrol fought off a number gnolls from the Cleaven Eye tribe, who should not have been in the area.

The Count's Court, Varinford, County of Varin, Seven Dominions
Leomund lurked along the wall, trying not to draw attention to himself.  Thathan, the Count of Varin had all of his barons, his own knights, his barons, and his barons' senior knights summoned to court.  Dame Nyssa, the knight Leomund squired to, had the attention of the assemblage.  She was the only knight not summoned.  Indeed, she was the reason for the meeting.  Unlike Leomund and much to his discomfort, Nyssa had no problem with attracting attention.  A mix of harsh whispers, angry shouts, and barking laughs filled the room with a din.

The Count pounded on the arm of his throne, the clanging of his ceremonial mace on the metal arm calling the meeting to order.  "Enough!"  As the murmurs died, the Count got to his feet.  "When I asked His Majesty for help, I expected more than one old knight and her squire."  He pointed at Dame Nyssa.  Leomund's cheeks began burning under the stares directed at him.  The young squire remained still, though, as the Count continued, "Varin is facing an invasion.  I expected troops."

Nyssa stood.  "If I may, my Lord?"

"Oh, please, speak.  I cannot wait to hear what you have to say."

Nyssa walked down the aisle between the rows of wooden pews.  "My Lord, if His Majesty sent troops every time a vassal claimed there was a threat to the realm, the soldiery would be exhausted."  The dame paused as a ripple of laughter passed through the court.  "That's why he sent me, a Knight of the Realm.  To determine just what the threat is."

Tathan glared at the knight.  "I did detail what I received in my missive."

"You did, and the note was well written.  His Majesty was able to read every perfectly formed letter."  Nyssa allowed herself a smirk.  "You didn't send the missive you received.  A threat from the dwarves?  My Lord, His Majesty needs more than even your word."

The Count snapped his fingers.  His Knigh-Martial retrieved a scroll from a side table, then marched it over to Nyssa.  "Written proof," Tathan said.

Nyssa unrolled the scroll.  She read the note, then looked back up.  "Dwarven script, I'll give you that.  What were you going to do with the troops you requested?"

"Attack the dwarves before they attacked us."

"Brilliant plan, my Lord.  Let us lay seige to the dwarven mountain.  Your engines of war wouldn't penetrate deep enough and the dwarves have enough food and water to last years.  And let us not forget that we'd have to go through the Sylvan Forest.  I think the elves will want a say in having your forces march through, hunting on their lands."

The Count's face reddened.  Leomund shrunk back, away from Dame Nyssa.  "And just what do you propose, o Knight of the Realm?  Giving the dwarves our first born sons?"

"Of course not.  They have no used for them."  Nyssa shook her head.  "No, my Lord, what will happen is that my squire and I will go talk with the dwarves and find out why they want to march this far."  She shook the paper in her hand.  "I have met ambassadors from below the mountain.  They're gruff, plain spoken.  If they're going to threaten, they'd tell us exactly what they'll do to us."

"And if the threat is real?"

"Then I return, stopping in elven lands to gain permission for your seige weapons and your levy to pass through.  I give you my word as one of His Majesty's knights."  Nyssa handed the scroll back to the Knight-Martial, then turned.  "Leomund, we have preparations."  Without waiting for a dismissal, she walked out of the Count's manor.

Leomund stared at the doorway a moment before realizing he needed to catch up.  He bowed deeply towards the Count.  "If I may, my Lord?"  He heard his voice crack.

Tathan sighed.  "Go."

"Thank you, my Lord."  Leomund bowed again, then ran after Nyssa.

The old knight waited at the gates to the manor.  She resumed walking as her squire caught up.  "Took you long enough, Leo."

"I had to--"

"No, you didn't."  Nyssa ran a hand through her steel grey hair.  "Remember, you answer to me.  You are my responsibility."

"Yes, ma'am."

Nyssa wrapped an arm around her young squire's shoulder.  "The Count would have to either speak with me or with His Majesty himself.  You're duty is to me."

"Yes, ma'am."  Leomund kept his eyes forward.  "Where now, ma'am?"

"You're getting our gear ready.  We're leaving at morning's first light.  I have a letter to send to His Majesty.  There is something afoot here."

Leomund looked up at Nyssa.  "Ma'am?  But, you all but dismissed the Count's concerns."

"He had the wrong concerns.  The message mentioned dead bodies found.  If that had happened, the Count would have been visited by angry dwarves, not an angry scroll.  Tathan, though, is quick to anger himself.  Threaten his lands, and he overreacts."  Nyssa stopped walking.  "We need to have the calmer heads here."

"We're doomed, ma'am."

Nyssa ruffled Leomund's page-boy haircut.  "Funny, Leo.  Go.  Make sure we're ready to leave come morning."

Next Week:
Dame Nyssa and her squire, Leo, head out to investigate the dwarven missive.

8 Nov 2018

The Elf's Prisoner - Commentary 1

Thank you for bearing with me over the past few weeks.  Life got complex, but the commentary is back, even with NaNo going on.

Two weeks back, the first chapter of The Elf's Prisoner appeared.  This was my 2015 NaNo effort.  Fair warning right now - it's incomplete.  Not incomplete like The Soul Blade or The Devil You Know, both of which were just chapters from being completed.  No, The Elf's Prisoner ends at maybe the first third.  The story got away from me.  That's what happens when you pants not just the plot but also the world building.  Epic fantasy does need some prep work, especially if going out beyond a village.

First thing I decided was how elven names were spelled.  JRR Tolkien has had a huge influence on elven names, with names like Galadriel and Arwen.  However, this time around, I wanted to make the names more mine.  The best way I had was to use existing languages and tweak them.  This decision for the elves led to other choices that gave me new insights on the peoples of my slowly forming world.  My elves are using tweaked Polish names for their given name.  Thus, they now feel more real, at least to me.

Jyslyn, though, predates that decision.  Jyslyn dates from 1985, with the release of Unearthed Arcana for AD&D 1st edition, with the name coming from 1991 supplement, Drow of the Underdark.  And for those wondering if she's another Drizzt Do'Urden, she predates him.  Sure, the idea of the atoning drow is old.  Atonement is a common motivation for characters.  The other difference is her build.  In AD&D 1st edition, non-human and demi-human characters could mult-class, taking two or three classes at once, though gaining levels very slowly.  With Jyslyn, I saw that a drow PC could become a magic-users/thief.  There's one catch.  Drow men could be better wizards than drow women, and both had level limits.  Jyslyn could pick up levels of wizard, but would be stopped at fourth or fifth.  Thus, multi-classing as a thief, where she could at least keep up with the rest of the party somehow.

That's just mechanics, though.  The character comes out in the why.  Why is Jyslyn dabbling in magic?  Why is she good at sneaking around?  Why is she leaving her home?  The first two, I'll answer now.  Jyslyn will answer why she left her home in a later chapter.  Why dabble in magic and why sneak?  The two are related.  Jyslyn was fascinated by magic as a young elf girl.  She managed to sneak around to spy on classes where she could learn how to cast spells.  At first, she was caught and punished, which made her more determined to be careful.

Kazimier is a priest of the Lightbringer.  The gods in the world go by many names across the unnamed land.  Priest can pray for help, getting spells as needed.  I did want to avoid turning the story into a D&D clone.  It's difficult when one of the characters starts from that game.  But I wanted my world to be mine.  Spells may be inspired by the game, but how they work aren't.  Kazi's spell to understand Jyslyn had an effect that made it clear that it came from the Lightbringer.  Healing was done with a magical salve instead of a major casting.  The difference is spell casting was definitely a challenge for me.

I have since done some worldbuilding for the story.  Normally, yes, the worldbuilding comes first, but that's what happens when you choose a story with minutes to go before November 1st arrives.  Some of the worldbuilding was just noting what I had done.  Some of it, though, was extrapolating what I wanted to see how the world fleshed out.  I may be making some edits along the way to adjust the story to how the world should be.

Friday, elsewhere in the land, others are running into similar problems, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 3.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, still on hiatus.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, the importance of casting in adaptations.

4 Nov 2018

NaNo 2018 - Week 1

It's a short week, but Sundays seem to be the best time to take stock of what I've done during the previous days.  This will be a four day week, short and sweet.

Thanks to other things happening in my life, I got off to a slow start.  Just over 1000 words on Day 1.  But I started.  I went with Heaven's Rejects, though Threefold Witches and Unruly are on stand by.  Who knows what will happen.  And the start went well enough, despite not getting 1667 words on the first day.

Day 2, and the words came out.  I managed to catch up and get a bit ahead.  Great news, except I was already planning on being out of town on Saturday on a trip I was looking for.  But, briefly ahead, and I figured out how to get one of the elements I wanted in the work in there.  For an extra bonus, the element let me add words without necessarily knowing where I was going in the story.

So, Day 3, out of town, but I got 92 words done.  It was something, and let me continue my update streak on NaNo's site.  This set me up for Sunday, the first library write-in.  Write-ins are great - there's energy.  Everyone is there also writing.  There's writing sprints, short bursts where everyone is encouraged to just right.  I came in hoping to get at least 2500 words to catch up and reach the 6667 words I should be at on Day 4.  When I arrived, I put down 3000 words for my goal.  My final total after the write-in?  3385 words, putting me at 7545 total, ahead of pace.

Coming up, the first full week of NaNo.  More write-ins.  More writing.  And I still need to figure out where I'm going.  The characters are interacting, I have a mysterious explosion to solve, by the cast and by me, and some more research to be done.  And the research is getting interesting.  The location of the explosion turned out to have been remodelled earlier this year.  That changes the nature of the mystery, and now I might have an idea of what's going on.

If you want to follow my process, you can check my stats page over the month and see how I'm doing compared to where I should be.

2 Nov 2018

The Elf's Prisoner - Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Kazimier and his patrol discovered Jyslyn, a dark elf, lying near death.

The Sylvan Forest
Jyslyn watched her captor run to join the fight.  She remained behind, hefting her borrowed dagger in her hand, getting a feel for its weight.  Gnolls swarmed from the darkness of the forest, but if they used the darkness, Jyslyn was at home in it.  She ducked behind the fallen log and crept on barefeet over the dirt floor of the forest, making no sound.  The clash of swords and shouts of the surface elves just made things easier for her as she worked her way behind the gnolls.

Something about the attack didn't feel right, but a battle was no time for introspection.  First priority, neutralize the threat.  A few spells came to her mind, but without needed components, they may as well have been dreams.  The dagger, though, was real.  As was the gnoll lurking behind his horde, waiting to dart in with his spear.  Jyslyn crept towards him, willing herself to become one with the forest shadows.  The gnoll raised his spear, readying for a overhead thrust down on a surface elf.

Jyslyn moved in, her tunic's folds whispering against themselves.  A twig snapped beneath her feet, getting the gnoll's attention.  Too late, he whirled his head around to see his new attacker.  Jyslyn slashed with her borrowed dagger, the blade cutting a blood red line on the gnoll's neck.  He dropped his sword to grasp at the wound, unable to call a warning.  Jyslyn felt the spray of hot blood on her arm as she turned to her next target.

Before Jyslyn could step in, the gnoll fell, cut through by an elven blade.  Jyslyn stepped back, not wanting to become an "accidental" victim.  The surface elf stepped into the gap he created, trying to push back the fight.  Jyslyn side-stepped down the line.  Through gaps in the battle, she spied her healer, Kazimier, fighting beside his comrade-in-arms.  The two worked together, one feinting to give the other an opening.  Jyslyn allowed herself a moment of envy; neither of the the two surface elves would ever have to worry about the other taking advantage of the moment to kill him.  The thought was almost alien to her.

A roar brought Jyslyn back to the now.  She ducked as she spun around.  Another gnoll, bigger than the rest, led a cave bear on a rope lead.  Jyslyn risked a quick glance back at the surface elves; none could see the beast.  The head gnoll didn't act like he knew she was there.  Jyslyn saw several ways to escape.  And yet...  It's not what we choose, but why.

"Cave bear!" she shouted.

The head gnoll looked in her direction.  He dropped the rope lead and pointed at her, snarling something in his language.  While Jyslyn didn't understand the words, she understood the gist.  The bear lumbered towards her, covering the distance between them far faster than the elf could imagine.  Jyslyn backed up, running into a tree.  The burns on her back screamed at her, but she ignored the pain.  Pain now meant she was still alive.  She held up her dagger, still stained with the blood of the gnoll she killed.  Even if the bear killed her, it will know that it was in a fight.

The cave bear reared on its hind legs, towering over Jyslyn.  The dark elf looked for an opening, trying to find a way past its massive paws to cut it.  She danced out of the way of a swipe, dodging behind the tree.  The beast roared.  Jyslyn smelled rotting meat in its breath, but she kept her attention on the cave bear.  The bear walked in, snarling.  It reached around the tree with both arms.  Jyslyn ducked to avoid the long claws, then rolled away from the tree.  The bear fell to all fours as it followed her.  Jyslyn raised her dagger again, flicking the weapon at the bear to try keeping it away.  Ignoring the weapon, the cave bear charged in.  The dark elf stepped backward.  Her heel hit an exposed root; the dark elf fell on her back.  The bear raised a meaty paw.

A shield appeared over Jyslyn.  The bear struck the shield with a loud clang.  Jyslyn rolled away, running against a pair of legs.  Without looking, she crawled on hands and knees away, giving whoever was standing over her room to fight.  The bear reared again, but the elf, the two elves Jyslyn now saw, pressed their attack, sword and shield.  An arrow embedded itself in the bear's shoulder.  The beast cried out in pain and anger.  It swatted at the elves before it.

Away from the danger, Jyslyn got to her feet.  Somehow, she still had the dagger in her hand.  The bear stood against the elves before it, even with the wounds it was taking from sword and arrow.  Jyslyn focused on the bear, watching it move.  She raised the dagger, her arm back, ready to throw.  The bear dropped back to its feet, backing away from the onslaught.  Jyslyn moved, trying to find an opening.  One of the surface elves fell to the bear's paw.  Kazimier ran in to pull his comrade out of the way.  In that moment, Jyslyn saw her opening.

The dark elf hurled the dagger.  The blade flew true to her aim, over Kazimier's head and into the cave bear's eye.  The beast had no time to react.  All it did was collapse under its own weight.  It gave one last breath.

Jyslyn pointed at the leader of the gnolls, now running deeper into the forest.  Two of the surface elves started to follow, but were called back.  Jyslyn marched to the dead cave bear and pulled the dagger out.  All the surface elves standing pointed weapons, sword or nocked bow, at her.  She held the blade with her thumb and forefinger as she walked over to Kazimier.  "Thank you."

Kazimier took his dagger back.  "You've been able to understand us all this time."

"You just assumed I couldn't."  She crossed her wrists and offered them to Kazimier.

"Right."  He called for his comrade, Carrad.

Carrad arrived with another length of rope.  "Kazimier, Danen recognized the markings on the gnolls.  They're the Cleaven Eye Clan.  Danen's sketching the tattoos now."

"The Cleaven Eye?" Kazimier repeated.  "I thought they were south of here."

"They are," Jyslyn said,

"I need to bury our dead," Carrad said.  "Just one, Derluen."

Kazimier grimaced.  "I will send praryers to the Lightbringer for him."  As Carrad returned to his duties, the priest turned back to Jyslyn.  "You could have run."

"It was one of my choices, yes."

"Are you going to run?"

"I am your prisoner.  I will not escape."

Next Week:
Elsewhere, other plots begin.